Luke 20: 1 – 8 The authority of Jesus questioned

Luke 20: 1 – 8 The authority of Jesus questioned

One day as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the good news, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. ‘Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,’ they said. ‘Who gave you this authority?’

He replied, ‘I will also ask you a question. Tell me: John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or of human origin?’

They discussed it among themselves and said, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” he will ask, “Why didn’t you believe him?” But if we say “Of human origin,” all the people will stone us, because they are persuaded that John was a prophet.’

So they answered, ‘We don’t know where it was from.’

Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’

*       *       *

Jesus had made enemies. Look at the people who came to question his authority for preaching in the temple! Chief priests; teachers of the law; the elders of the temple. These people were the movers and shakers of the nation. They were the people who authorised rabbis to teach, and they demanded to know with whose authority Jesus spoke. It was a catch question; they were the officials who granted authority to speak, and they knew they hadn’t authorised Jesus.

Instead of answering their question, Jesus asks one of his own: Tell me: John’s baptism – was it from heaven, or of human origin?’

This was a clever response, because it put his attackers in a cleft stick. They could admit John’s ministry was from God, in which case they were wrong to have ignored him; or they could say it was from men, in which case they would face the wrath of the crowd.

So they answered, ‘We don’t know where it was from.’

And in saying this, they lost the battle of words.

But Jesus’ question is actually far more profound than this. It’s not just clever word play to win a debate; it makes clear an obstacle to belief.

‘We don’t know where it was from.’

In demanding to know Jesus authority, the Jewish leaders were asking in bad faith. They knew they hadn’t authorised him. They had no desire to know who trained him, or from where his ministry came. They weren’t interested in his ministry any more than they had been in John the Baptist’s. They were perfectly happy with the way things were, and they wanted Jesus to stop rocking the boat.

Jesus’ response to them was uncompromising.

Jesus said, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’

You might wonder why he was so robust in his response.

There were at least two reasons. The first is that Jesus was very aware of his onrushing execution. There was very little time for him to complete his work. He couldn’t afford the time to debate with people who were hostile to his message. The second is that he knew that no matter how convincing his arguments his opponents wouldn’t be convinced.

As the old proverb says, “There’s none so deaf as those that will not hear”.

The message of this passage is as relevant now as it was in Jesus’ day.

Jesus never turns away a genuine seeker of truth. If we open our hearts, if we’re prepared to ask questions – and listen to the answers – Jesus will lead us. But if we are simply trying to confirm our own prejudices, his response will be the same as it was to the Jewish leaders.

‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’

This is not a cold, unloving response. Jesus would very much rather answer our genuine questions and doubts. But if we are asking in bad faith; if we don’t really want to know the answers; then he cannot get through to us. We will have chosen not to be answered because we won’t listen to the answer.

The authority by which Jesus taught and healed was the authority of God. The bible records miracles, healing and ethical teaching as witness to that authority. It records the death and resurrection of Jesus as witness to the ultimate triumph of love in the world. The Holy Spirit prompts Christians to live lives that show the love of God, and that, too, is a witness to the truth that the authority of Jesus, now as during his lifetime, is from God.


Heavenly Father

Thank you for Jesus. Thank you for the bible. Thank you that your love will triumph.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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